It isn't easy, being Green...

>> Friday, 15 June 2012

Ever heard the one about the expat woman who takes her own shopping bags to a Russian hypermarket that already provides free plastic ones for it’s customers?


Neither have the cashiers, apparently.  I swear I’m known as ‘That Expat Bag Lady’, based on the number of raised eyebrows and confused expressions when, each week, I stop them from packing my shopping for me and pack it myself into a motley collection of reuseable over-sized shopping bags.

‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’;  three not-so-little words that – if you live in the UK, at least – may as well be engraved on top of your rubbish bin, are enforced by waste-collectors,  and which are often parroted at you by your children who have been indoctrinated with the philosophy by their schools from a very early age.  Most homes are equipped with bins for glass, bins for paper and card, and bins for tins and aluminium.  Depending on where you live, there may be composting bins for your left-over food too, and also drop-points for used batteries.

And so, to Russia.  Where there are just about none of these things.  I was told once by a Russian friend that during communist times recycling was a civic duty as well as a practical necessity, but that nowadays it’s seen very much as something that they used to do rather than a requirement for modern life.  This may account for the not-infrequent sight, during drives outside the city, of clearings in the forest filled with domestic rubbish – or perhaps that’s just the result of unscrupulous waste collectors fly-tipping once they are out of view of the village they’ve just collected from.

Another friend of mine here, who likes to make her own pickles and jams, tells of ongoing battles with her cleaner who, given half the chance, will clear the top shelf in the pantry of all the glass jars lovingly collected over the last few months in preparation for pickling season.  The cleaner dumps them in the bin because of course you can buy new glass jars cheaply at most supermarkets at the right time of year, rather than using those second-hand ones...

Visiting friends and family from Western Europe are appalled when they see all our refuse going into the same bin, but since there are no alternatives,  that’s where it all ends up.  Hence my determination that when supermarket shopping at least, I will try and make my own small difference and take my own bags.  It’s not entirely selfless, I have to admit; I can fit into 1 of my reuseable bags the same amount that the cashier would distribute between 3 of the flimsy ‘packyets’(sic) that they provide, thus reducing trips between car and house on top of giving me that feel-good moment when I return the empty bags to the car boot ready for their next outing.

But if one more cashier looks at me as if I’m a crazy woman as I race to get all my purchases onto the belt in enough time to be at the other end of the till to pack it all myself once it’s been scanned through, I swear I will have to start wearing a t-shirt printed with the words ‘It’s the Environment, stupid’ (in Russian, of course) every time I do the weekly shop.

They’ll still think I’m crazy, obviously.  But then no-one ever said it was easy being Green...

This post first appeared over at my other blog; 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' at The Moscow Times Online


Pippa W 15 June 2012 at 16:29  

I often wonder about how we would be viewed abroad. Now I know that I'd be a crazy bag lady in Russia too.

nappy valley girl 15 June 2012 at 17:11  

I'm probably the crazy bag lady here, too. It's always a race, like you say, to get all the shopping on the belt in time to get to the other end and use my canvas bags before the till assistant starts double wrapping it in plastic. You would think America might be better than Russia, but it really isn't.

MsCaroline 16 June 2012 at 00:14  

Where we lived in Texas and Arizona, bringing your own bags was very much expected and in fact, I always felt that people were secretly rolling their eyes at the hapless few who showed up without bags of their own. In fact, I felt that our communities were pretty 'green' considering that most of the US has dragged its feet for so long. Of course, once we moved to Seoul, everything cranked up several notches - we produce almost zero actual rubbish here, because nearly everything is recycled - our apartment building even has a special wall chute in the stairwell for food waste. The building uses 'grey' water to wash the waste down to a basement holding tank, from whence it's trucked somewhere to be turned into compost and fertilizer. You can get plastic bags at the shops and markets here, but most people carry their own. Very different from the Asia in which I grew up!

Irene 16 June 2012 at 02:18  

In The Netherlands, we carry our own big shopping bags as a rule and those hold a lot of groceries. Maybe you should invest in some the next time you are in the west of Europe. They are handier than plastic bags. I have an allergy to plastic bags and what harm they do to the environment, just like you do. Every time I end up with one, I don't know what to do with it. I recycle as many as I can.

Kate 16 June 2012 at 16:07  

Interesting post seeing how not all countries view looking after the environment in the same way.

The Expatresse 16 June 2012 at 17:07  

I brought Trader Joe's bags back to Moscow with me--at first I knew they thought I was weird. But then Sedmoi started charging for bags and LOTS of other shoppers started to BYO.

I, too, hated dropping all trash in the one big bin. I sorted out glass, at least, as I was told people would take it to be reused/recycled. I don't know if that's true, but it made me fel better.

Happy Mum 19 June 2012 at 20:37  

Keep going with the bags! We don't use those extra bags you get in the UK for loose fruit and veg and recently experienced a fine curl of lip from the woman at the check out who thought us revolting for not wanting to put two plastic bags around our potatoes that will only be washed anyway! We just laughed.

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